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HTF DVD REVIEW: Tales of the Gold Monkey The Complete Series


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#1 of 49 OFFLINE   Timothy E

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Posted June 05 2010 - 02:17 PM

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TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY:

THE COMPLETE SERIES


Studio: Shout Factory

Year: 2010

Rated: Unrated

Film Length: 16 hours, 48 minutes

Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Subtitles: None


Release Date: June 8, 2010


The Series


In 1981, a couple of filmmakers named Lucas and Spielberg released a small film called Raiders of the Lost Ark. The success of Raiders, with its 1930s setting and its cliffhanger movie serial tone, made the television networks attempt to emulate that success. In the fall of 1982, 2 of the 3 major networks introduced their own series based on larger than life heroes from the 1930s. CBS premiered a series called Bring ‘Em Back Alive which was based very loosely on the life of big game hunter Frank Buck, starring Bruce Boxleitner and Cindy Morgan. ABC premiered its own adventure series that same season, also set in the 1930s, called Tales of the Gold Monkey, created by Donald Bellisario (Magnum, P.I., JAG). Although both shows are fondly remembered to this day, both series were cancelled after only one season.


The hero of Tales of the Gold Monkey is Jake Cutter (Stephen Collins), a former pilot for the legendary Flying Tigers who finds himself flying freight, and people, in the vicinity of the fictional South Pacific island of Boragora in the middle of 1938. Jake’s constant companion is his one-eyed dog, Jack, whose sapphire and opal artificial eye was lost after Jake lost it in a high stakes poker game. Corky (Jeff Mackay) is Jake’s absent-minded mechanic and friend. Bon Chance Louie (Ron Moody, Roddy McDowall) is the proprietor of the Monkey Bar and the Magistrate of Justice for Boragora who has a disreputable and mysterious past. Sarah Stickney White (Caitlin O’Heaney) is the entertainer in the Monkey Bar who also happens to be an American spy. Their friend Reverend Willie Tenboom (John Calvin) has an eye for the young island maidens and is in fact a German spy for the Wehrmacht. The setting and personalities in this series are ripe for adventure and intrigue, and Tales of the Gold Monkey never fails to deliver these qualities.


Tales of the Gold Monkey is obviously modeled after Howard Hawks’ Only Angels Have Wings (1939) with qualities of other 30s and 40s films thrown into the mix. This series also owes a debt to Milton Caniff’s classic comic strip Terry and the Pirates. Jake Cutter even has his own Dragon Lady, like Caniff’s Terry, in the form of Princess Koji (Marta DuBois), a beautiful Asian princess of Japanese and Irish descent.


I remember this show fondly even though I had not seen it for many years and I wondered whether Tales of the Gold Monkey would stand up well over 25 years later. Sometimes memories artificially elevate the quality of films, television shows, and other experiences. I am pleased to report that this reviewer finds that Tales of the Gold Monkey has withstood the test of time and is even better than I remembered. Like the films that influenced it, such as Only Angels Have Wings, Casablanca, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, Tales of the Gold Monkey has a consistent level of quality which makes it remembered fondly, and deservedly so, by many fans to this day.


Tales of the Gold Monkey is always linked inextricably in my mind to Magnum, P.I., which was also in production during this same period. Both series shared the same creator (Donald Bellisario), some of the same writers, producers, and crew, and many actors who appeared in both series: Jeff Mackay, Marta Dubois, John Hillerman, and Lance LeGault, are just a few of the actors who appeared in both shows. Magnum, P.I. was always a personal favorite of mine so it is little wonder that I enjoy this series as well.


Interestingly enough, Tales of the Gold Monkey was pitched originally to the television networks in 1979, a few years before Raiders of the Lost Ark, and was universally rejected at that time. After the success of Raiders in 1981, the networks were understandably interested in producing series with a two-fisted hero in a 1930s setting, and Tales of the Gold Monkey finally had its pilot episode produced in early 1982, and was picked up shortly after by ABC.


Although Tales of the Gold Monkey was not a ratings juggernaut in the United States during its initial run, it was becoming so popular by the end of its first season that it was considered a sure thing for renewal, and it was a huge hit in overseas markets. Unfortunately, network politics resulted in its cancellation in the Spring of 1983.


This set consists of 20 full length episodes plus the 2 hour pilot episode on 6 discs, with all of the special features, other than episode-specific audio commentaries, located on disc 6. The packaging and content are almost identical to the complete series set released by Fabulous Films in Regions 2 and 4 in December of 2009. Shout Factory has licenced this release from Fabulous Films for release in Region 1 for North America. Specific discussion of the subtle differences between this set and the overseas release follows below in the discussion of video and audio.


Video


The series and special features are displayed in a 1:33:1 screen ratio. The image is actually stretched on my widescreen television unless I adjust my settings to the correct screen ratio. The video quality on the individual episodes is good, but not great, for a series from the mid-1980s. Colors are vibrant but contrast is somewhat soft.


Although fans have been clamoring for a DVD release for years, the needs for restoration and clearance of music rights have held up the release until now. Fabulous Films did some restoration work to bring the video quality up to modern standards, and the restoration was evidently needed since there is a periodic frame here and there that still shows deterioration of the videotape masters. In a couple of episodes, the video quality deteriorates minimally from the beginning of the episode until the end, although I will emphasize that this is so minimal that most people will not even take note.


Audio


The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio track is not exceptional by modern standards but accurately reproduces the audio, with minor improvements, of the original broadcasts. Some viewers may detect a subtle difference in pitch which is attributable to time compression. Although these episodes are complete and uncut, the same encoding was used for this release in NTSC format as was used when the series was first transferred to PAL DVD. The result is that the video and audio have the 4% speedup typical of PAL releases, even though this is in NTSC format, and the running time for the episodes on this set is identical to the R2 and R4 PAL DVD set. This is not a deal-breaker for me, but some people are sensitive to the change in pitch from PAL speedup, so it deserves mention.


The other issue with the audio, although a minor one, is music replacement. One of the impediments all these years to releasing this series on DVD has apparently been music rights. I noticed that the piano music played in the Monkey Bar during the pilot episode has been changed. In the original broadcast, the piano player was playing "As Time Goes By" from the 1931 Broadway musical Everybody’s Welcome, although everyone today associates this song with Casablanca. The piano music in the pilot has been changed for this release to a different tune to which I am unfamiliar. Curiously, the original music remains intact in the PAL DVD set, and has been changed only for this R1 set. Apparently, clearance of the music rights for this song could not be obtained, or were cost-prohibitive, for the North American market.


Although I always disapprove of music replacement on DVD releases of films and TV shows, the replacement of that one song is incidental and trivial for me. I would be furious if the wonderful theme song and dramatic cues had been replaced, but that is not the case. Some might even consider the replacement of that song as an improvement to the extent that hearing the same song throughout the episode in every scene in the Monkey Bar becomes distracting to the point that the viewer might reasonably wonder if the piano player’s play-list is limited to only 1 or 2 songs.


There were at least 3 different scenes in the pilot episode that had the same song playing, and a critic could argue reasonably that the pervasive use of that song is a cheap way to trade on the emotion associated with a classic film. I am still disappointed that this release does not have the original music throughout the pilot episode, but very few people will even notice, and in fact the replacement music sounds almost identical to the original but for the change of song. I have not discovered any other music replacement but I will update this review if I become aware of any other changes.


Special Features


Disc 6 contains all of the special features, with the exception of the audio commentaries on 4 other episodes on Discs 4 and 5. Writer/producer Tom Greene(also of Magnum, P.I. fame) provides audio commentary on the following 5 episodes: Force of Habit, Last Chance Louie, Naka Jima Kill, Boragora or Bust, and A Distant Shout of Thunder.


The special features on Disc 6 are as follows:


Series Synopsis: A brief text feature describing the series in one paragraph.


Series Concept: A longer text feature describing the concept of the series in greater detail. This feature and the series synopsis appear to have been taken verbatim from the original pitch made to the television networks.


The Making of Tales of the Gold Monkey: This fascinating documentary about the series was filmed last year in anticipation of this DVD release and includes modern interviews with actors Stephen Collins and Caitlin O’Heaney, as well as series writer/producer Tom Greene and series director Harvey Laidman.


Character Biographies: This text feature includes biographies of all of the regular and recurring characters in the series. This appears to have been taken verbatim from the original series bible, since it is very accurate, makes very interesting reading, and is noticeably better written than a typical text feature that is seemingly included as an afterthought with some DVD releases.


Personal Biographies: This text feature consists of biographies of the cast members. The text appears to have been taken directly from original press releases from 1982 since it includes only credits prior to the series and refers to the series implicitly in present tense.


Fact File: This text feature consists of an interesting article that discusses production of the series.


Stills Gallery: This is broken up into 4 different categories - Colour images (note the Anglo spelling), B & W images, Caitlin’s Original Costume Gallery, and Artifacts Gallery.


Credits: Credits for encoding and authoring of this DVD release.


A Distant Sound of Thunder: Optional audio commentary during this episode provided by writer/producer Tom Greene.


A 24 page illustrated booklet is also included with a general summary of the series as well as synopses and cast and crew credits for every episode interspersed with publicity photographs from the series. This is the same booklet that was included with the PAL DVD releases.


Conclusion


I am pleased to report that Tales of the Gold Monkey has stood the test of time just as well as, or better than, many of the media that influenced it. This series has a similar tone of adventure to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles and The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., so if you like those series, you will probably like this one as well. A great deal of effort obviously went into the creation and packaging of these DVDs and it shows. It is unfortunate that this series was not encoded first in NTSC format instead of PAL format so that we could have the episodes at the original playback speed rather than with time compression. I am still disappointed by the minor music replacement on this R1 release which did not occur on the R2 and R4 sets, even though it is almost imperceptible. The special features are extremely well done. They just don’t make shows like this anymore, but I wish they did, and you will too if you have never seen this terrific adventure show. Tales of the Gold Monkey The Complete Series DVD set is highly recommended.

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#2 of 49 OFFLINE   Jeff Willis

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Posted June 05 2010 - 10:23 PM

Tim,


Thanks for the review!


I admit that I'm a little concerned to hear about music replacement with the R1 set but if it's only in the Pilot episode as you indicated, I plan on getting the R1 release.  If there are other music edits throughout the other episodes, I think I'll get the R2 version.



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#3 of 49 OFFLINE   Neil Brock

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Posted June 06 2010 - 01:14 AM

From the sounds of it, the show hasn't been remastered from the 35mm elements but taken from an existing set of tape transfers. That being the case, I will just stick with my nice quality ABC off-air master records.



#4 of 49 OFFLINE   jackflash

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Posted June 06 2010 - 01:25 AM

cant wait



#5 of 49 OFFLINE   Timothy E

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Posted June 06 2010 - 11:56 AM

Originally Posted by Neil Brock 

From the sounds of it, the show hasn't been remastered from the 35mm elements but taken from an existing set of tape transfers. That being the case, I will just stick with my nice quality ABC off-air master records.


I would be very interested to know if the 35mm elements still exist for this series.  I understand that series filmed in the mid-1980s were often transferred to videotape before editing and final production.  If that is the case, then the masters may never have existed on 35mm film.  Does anyone know if film elements still exist for this series?


It is also possible that film elements, if they still existed, might have been lost in the Universal fire of a few years ago.  I hope that is not the case.  I would be very enthusiastic to see a Blu-ray collection of Tales of the Gold Monkey taken from restored 35mm film elements.  If that ever comes to pass, I hope we do not have to wait another 25 years or so to see that happen.



#6 of 49 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted June 07 2010 - 04:50 PM



Originally Posted by Timothy E 


I would be very interested to know if the 35mm elements still exist for this series.  I understand that series filmed in the mid-1980s were often transferred to videotape before editing and final production.  If that is the case, then the masters may never have existed on 35mm film.  Does anyone know if film elements still exist for this series?


It is also possible that film elements, if they still existed, might have been lost in the Universal fire of a few years ago.  I hope that is not the case.  I would be very enthusiastic to see a Blu-ray collection of Tales of the Gold Monkey taken from restored 35mm film elements.  If that ever comes to pass, I hope we do not have to wait another 25 years or so to see that happen.


This show pre-dates the "post production on video" trend by about 6 years. That didn't really start until about 1988. I believe Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the first shows to shoot on film but be completed on video.


Gold Monkey was edited and all special effect completed on 35mm film. Its unfortunate that they had to use the PAL masters from Fabulous Films, or at least didn't correct for the PAL speed, which really isn't all that hard. I have no doubt that these are new transfers of the film elements, but they were prepared for release in the UK, hence the PAL speed up.


The only thing destroyed in the Universal fire were video masters. No film elements were stored in the warehouse that burned.


Doug


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#7 of 49 OFFLINE   Mark-P

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Posted June 07 2010 - 05:12 PM



Quote:
Originally Posted by Timothy E 



The series and special features are displayed in a 1:33:1 screen ratio. The image is actually stretched on my widescreen television unless I adjust my settings to the correct screen ratio.

Why is that? Are you saying the discs are incorrectly flagged as 16X9, or is this something you have to do for all 1.33:1 material?


#8 of 49 OFFLINE   Timothy E

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Posted June 07 2010 - 06:00 PM



Originally Posted by Mark-P 
Why is that? Are you saying the discs are incorrectly flagged as 16X9, or is this something you have to do for all 1.33:1 material?
 


I am not suggesting the discs are flagged incorrectly, only that the episodes may be watched in 1.33:1 or stretched to 16X9 according to preference.  If you are accustomed to watching anamorphic material on a widescreen TV, then the default on your player and TV is probably 16X9.  My personal preference is usually to watch material in its original aspect ratio, which means for TV shows made prior to 2000 or thereabouts that I have to adjust my TV or my DVD player to show the material in its original aspect ratio.  The 16X9 actually gives the show a more cinematic look, but at the expense of making people look shorter and stockier than they actually are.



#9 of 49 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted June 08 2010 - 12:13 AM



Originally Posted by Timothy E 




I am not suggesting the discs are flagged incorrectly, only that the episodes may be watched in 1.33:1 or stretched to 16X9 according to preference.  If you are accustomed to watching anamorphic material on a widescreen TV, then the default on your player and TV is probably 16X9.  My personal preference is usually to watch material in its original aspect ratio, which means for TV shows made prior to 2000 or thereabouts that I have to adjust my TV or my DVD player to show the material in its original aspect ratio.  The 16X9 actually gives the show a more cinematic look, but at the expense of making people look shorter and stockier than they actually are.


If your TV and player are setup correctly, you should have to make no adjustments between a 16x9 DVD and a 4x3 DVD. A properly flagged DVD should display correctly either way with out you doing a thing.


Doug


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#10 of 49 ONLINE   Bryan^H

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Posted June 08 2010 - 04:28 AM

Thanks for the review Timothy.  I'm looking forward to watching this series.

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#11 of 49 OFFLINE   Worth

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Posted June 08 2010 - 06:59 AM



Originally Posted by Douglas Monce 




This show pre-dates the "post production on video" trend by about 6 years. That didn't really start until about 1988. I believe Star Trek: The Next Generation was one of the first shows to shoot on film but be completed on video.


Star Trek certainly wasn't the first show to complete post production on video. I know for a fact that all of Universal's television series had switched over from film to video post by 1987, and a handful of series were shot on film but edited on video well before that, possibly as early as 1984.


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#12 of 49 OFFLINE   Aryn Leroux

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Posted June 08 2010 - 08:51 AM

Thanks for the review.. very strange about the conversion process and still ending up with the PAL speedup. But, that is not really a big deal.  I tend to not even notice it much.  Amazon has my order status as "shipping soon" so I should have it by the end of the week.  /img/vbsmilies/htf/thumbsup.gif



#13 of 49 OFFLINE   Jeff Willis

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Posted June 08 2010 - 09:10 AM



Originally Posted by Aryn Leroux 

Thanks for the review.. very strange about the conversion process and still ending up with the PAL speedup. But, that is not really a big deal.  I tend to not even notice it much.  Amazon has my order status as "shipping soon" so I should have it by the end of the week.  /img/vbsmilies/htf/thumbsup.gif


I never notice the PAL speedup except for in some of my opening & closing theme music in some TV/DVD sets.  PAL is never a deal-breaker for me.


I am a little concerned about the transfer quality with this set.  I'd like to read more feedback on this before I buy the set.  Plus, the music edit question that was raised here about the Pilot episode is something I'm wondering about with comparisons between the R1 & R2 sets.



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#14 of 49 OFFLINE   Mark Collins

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Posted June 08 2010 - 11:04 AM

Great big thankyou to Tim and everyone who had post's about this series.  I bought my copy at Best Buy for 32.99 the online price. Best Buy carries 3.  Make sure you ask for the online price they will match.  I have liked so far what I have seen.  I have started with the first ep. The quality is good as is the sound music and voices.  The insert is very well done.  Thankyou to all who brought this show to my attt.



#15 of 49 OFFLINE   Jeff Willis

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Posted June 08 2010 - 11:10 AM




Originally Posted by Mark Collins 

Great big thankyou to Tim and everyone who had post's about this series.  I bought my copy at Best Buy for 32.99 the online price. Best Buy carries 3.  Make sure you ask for the online price they will match.  I have liked so far what I have seen.  I have started with the first ep. The quality is good as is the sound music and voices.  The insert is very well done.  Thankyou to all who brought this show to my attt.



Mark,


Thanks for the info!  From your feedback, the video transfers look decent?

The only issue that might steer me to the R2 release is the amount of music substitutions in the episodes, excluding the Pilot ep as was mentioned previously here.



ml1fyo.jpg  "Checkmate King Two, 'Out'" "Combat! A Selmur Production"

 

TV/DVD Collector, mainly 50's thru 90's with a few 2000+ shows.
My 2 all-time favorite TV shows:
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#16 of 49 OFFLINE   Mark Collins

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Posted June 08 2010 - 03:22 PM

Jeff  sorry to get back to you so late. I would say a qualified yes to your question.  The old Battlestar Galactica 1978 and Galactica 1980 would compare. I would say better then Dallas as good as Wild Wild West. I am viewing thru a panasonic blu-ray which also would play into it.  From what I viewed of the Pilot tonight I enjoyed the show very much.  The Young Indiana Jones series the viewing quality is better. I expected that though. I think to have a series as old as this put out there is fantastic. The whole review Tim did is right on target. I would not miss this package if I had been a fan of the series.



#17 of 49 OFFLINE   Jeff Willis

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Posted June 08 2010 - 04:06 PM




Originally Posted by Mark Collins 
Jeff  sorry to get back to you so late. I would say a qualified yes to your question.  The old Battlestar Galactica 1978 and Galactica 1980 would compare. I would say better then Dallas as good as Wild Wild West. I am viewing thru a panasonic blu-ray which also would play into it.  From what I viewed of the Pilot tonight I enjoyed the show very much.  The Young Indiana Jones series the viewing quality is better. I expected that though. I think to have a series as old as this put out there is fantastic. The whole review Tim did is right on target. I would not miss this package if I had been a fan of the series.


Mark,


Thanks again for the great info :).  Your transfer desc is just what I needed.  I have the original "Battlestar" and WWW as well as a few seasons of Dallas so your comparisons are what I was looking to obtain here.  I watch all of my DVD's thru a SD upconvert player via HDMI into a 50" Panasonic Plasma set.  All of the example shows look good thru my setup so I'll like these transfers for this one.


All that remains for me is to decide on the music editing issue.  If you get a chance to check out some of the episodes, let us know if it sounds like the original music has been removed or if it's intact.



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#18 of 49 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted June 08 2010 - 09:09 PM



Originally Posted by Worth 




Star Trek certainly wasn't the first show to complete post production on video. I know for a fact that all of Universal's television series had switched over from film to video post by 1987, and a handful of series were shot on film but edited on video well before that, possibly as early as 1984.


I wasn't saying that it was the first, but rather among the first. The first one that I remember seeing where it was obvious that post production had been done on video was Matlock. The titles were a dead give away. That was 86. I don't know of any being done as early as 84, but its possible.


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#19 of 49 OFFLINE   Douglas Monce

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Posted June 08 2010 - 09:19 PM

I got this set this morning. I watched the pilot and sampled a few of the episodes. Image quality is good. Sometimes I have to crank the sound way up to hear the dialog.


Honestly I can't really hear the speed up, even when comparing it to a recording made off the air in 82, however if you do a freeze frame, you can see a frame over lap from time to time, particularly when it cuts from one shot to another. Nothing anyone would notice when playing back at full speed however.


The documentary was interesting and there were quite a few things that I didn't know about the show. For instance the pilot was the most expensive show done for TV up to that point. Apparently even more expensive than Battlestar Galactica. I had also always assumed that the show was canceled because of low ratings, however it was actually a huge hit, and was canceled because of disagreements about the show between Donald Bellisario and ABC. In fact the other networks were trying to figure out how they were going to program shows against it, because they assumed it was going to be renewed.


Doug


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#20 of 49 OFFLINE   Jeff Willis

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Posted June 08 2010 - 10:29 PM

Originally Posted by Douglas Monce 
I wasn't saying that it was the first, but rather among the first. The first one that I remember seeing where it was obvious that post production had been done on video was Matlock. The titles were a dead give away. That was 86. I don't know of any being done as early as 84, but its possible.


Doug


I was going to mention Matlock as well since it appears this one was distributed on video.


Originally Posted by Douglas Monce 


I got this set this morning. I watched the pilot and sampled a few of the episodes. Image quality is good. Sometimes I have to crank the sound way up to hear the dialog.


Honestly I can't really hear the speed up, even when comparing it to a recording made off the air in 82, however if you do a freeze frame, you can see a frame over lap from time to time, particularly when it cuts from one shot to another. Nothing anyone would notice when playing back at full speed however.


The documentary was interesting and there were quite a few things that I didn't know about the show. For instance the pilot was the most expensive show done for TV up to that point. Apparently even more expensive than Battlestar Galactica. I had also always assumed that the show was canceled because of low ratings, however it was actually a huge hit, and was canceled because of disagreements about the show between Donald Bellisario and ABC. In fact the other networks were trying to figure out how they were going to program shows against it, because they assumed it was going to be renewed.


Doug


Thanks for the info!



ml1fyo.jpg  "Checkmate King Two, 'Out'" "Combat! A Selmur Production"

 

TV/DVD Collector, mainly 50's thru 90's with a few 2000+ shows.
My 2 all-time favorite TV shows:
"Combat!" & "The Fugitive"
My 2 all-time best blind-buys: "The Fugitive"   "The Donna Reed Show"